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China hits at EU solar panel dumping probe

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Beijing has lashed out at the EU’s decision to launch a trade investigation into Chinese solar panels, calling the anti-dumping probe “regrettable” and warning of the negative impact it could have on commercial ties.

The EU formally announced its investigation in a statement on Thursday, noting that the anti-dumping complaint was its biggest ever in terms of the import value affected. China’s solar exports to the EU reached €21bn last year, making the EU by far China’s largest solar panel customer.

The Brussels move follows a similar step in Washington, which levied anti-dumping tariffs and countervailing duties on Chinese solar-panel makers earlier this year.

Solarworld, the lossmaking German company that spearheaded the trade complaint in the US, was also the initiator of the EU trade complaint, which alleges that Chinese manufacturers are selling panels for less than the cost of production.

Chinese panel maker Yingli said on Thursday that the EU’s trade complaint was “groundless” and that protectionism would hurt the entire industry. Miao Liansheng, the company’s chairman, said it would “co-operate closely” with EU authorities to prove that Chinese solar companies were not dumping panels in Europe.

China’s ministry of commerce hinted at the possibility of retaliatory trade measures in its response to the EU announcement. In August, Chinese polysilicon manufacturers and winemakers separately filed trade complaints in Beijing against their EU counterparts.

“Today’s global solar industry is totally interconnected, and the China-EU solar sectors have a co-operation that is especially mutually dependent and mutually beneficial,” the statement said. “Restricting China’s solar panel products will not only be damaging to industries in both China and the EU, but will also destroy the healthy development of the solar and renewable energy sectors around the world.”

Eu ProSun, the SolarWorld-led coalition of EU manufacturers that filed the complaint, claimed that Chinese products were under-priced by 60 to 90 per cent.

“What we really hope is that the European commission will take action earlier because we are losing companies in Europe week by week,” said Milan Nitzschke, the group’s director.

The EU solar market is the world’s largest, and roughly 10 times that of the US. Chinese companies have rapidly grown from being bit players to capturing about 80 per cent of the market.

In their complaint, the EU companies contend that Chinese companies have been able to achieve this by relying on generous government credit lines even as they pile up losses.

But Chinese solar manufacturers, such as Trina Solar, have attributed their success to greater economies of scale and more favourable contracts for polysilicon, the main ingredient in photovoltaic cells.

Jodi Roussell, Trina’s public affairs director, warned that the EU case could push up solar prices just as they were becoming competitive with other, more polluting sources of energy. “We are on the verge of grid parity,” she said. “This case has the potential to set us back 15 years.”

Under EU law, the commission can determine that dumping occurred and harmed EU companies but still refrain from imposing tariffs if concluded this was against the broader EU interest.

That calculation, which could be key to the case, could include the impact on the EU installers of solar panels, who favour inexpensive Chinese products, as well as the companies that sell polysilicon and manufacturing equipment to China.

“Theoretically, foreign policy considerations could [also] play a role,” one EU official said.

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